The Use of Essential Oils and the CAPPA Professional’s Scope of Practice


Essential oils: the original medicine.

They’ve been around for thousands of years, and recently, they have gained in popularity. It seems like everyone is using them – or at the very least hearing about them. In my own family, we’ve started using essential oils on a daily basis for a wide variety of ailments and have dozens of oils in our growing collection. I’ve definitely been bitten by the oily bug. But what does this resurgence of these ancient oils mean for the CAPPA Professional?  Whether you’re a doula or an educator, if you’ve also been bitten by the oily bug or know someone who has, it’s important to keep in mind strong, bold boundaries regarding your Scope of Practice.

Did you see how I started that first paragraph? What was the last word in the first line? Medicine. That’s what these oils are – medicine. Not in the modern sense, of course, but they are certainly used for their therapeutic properties.

They are powerful, potent, and when used properly, effective.

That’s why so many people are turning to them.  As we all know, a CAPPA Professional’s Scope of Practice does NOT include giving medical advice or doing any kind of medical procedures.  What we do in our own homes with our own families is one thing.  When it starts to bleed over into how we practice our trades, it’s a very gray area.

When tempted to share information about essential oils with a client or student, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I giving a protocol on how to use the oils? If so, it has quite possibly crossed the line into giving medical advice.
  • Do I have reputable sources to back up my recommendation? If not, then why am I recommending it?  “So-and-so used it without consequence” or “My friend said she researched this” are NOT reputable sources! If you do have reputable sources, QUOTE THEM! Point your clients and students back to those sources (e.g. “According to page such-and-such of (insert reputable text here) these oils are safe for pregnancy and can be used in the following manner…”).
  • Do I think I know everything about this situation? There’s no possible way we can know all the details about the medical history of a woman or her baby and how these oils might affect them. Discretion and being conservative will serve us well in these areas. This is often the perfect place to remember “If in doubt, leave it out.”
  • Have I referred the woman back to her health care provider? If not, why not?
  • Have I given the woman a list of local resources where she can seek out a qualified aromatherapy professional? Last year I became a wholesale member of an essential oil company. I’m very happy with my choice and enjoy the products I am able to purchase. I’ve had a lot of people in my life ask me about them, and I have hosted and taught a number of introductory classes to share my growing my knowledge base. But in no way, shape, or form do I consider myself an aromatherapy professional.  Please be careful when making your referral list. The person using oils the longest or who has the loudest social media presence regarding their oils use or the biggest multi-level marketing business down line is not necessarily the person who is most knowledgeable and qualified to discuss the use of essential oils with our clients and students. Remember that your referral list is a reflection on you and your professionalism, and on CAPPA.

Recently, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. I’m part of several Facebook groups devoted to the use of essential oils and found that, as it was discovered that I was a doula and childbirth educator, more and more people were requesting my insight or advice on the use of these oils during the childbearing year.  I was getting tagged in questions like, “What oils can I use to induce labor?” and “What oils can I use for my pregnancy-related hemorrhoids?” and “Is this oil safe to use while I’m nursing?” I work with pregnant and birthing women, and I use oils personally…I must know the answers, right?

Wrong. I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the situation and even requested to not be tagged in any posts of the sort going forward.

The use of essential oils in pregnancy and during lactation is broad and complex – and that is just one small sliver of the world of essential oils at large.

I would never presume to be qualified to dispense advice, protocols, or recommendations for EO use during the childbearing year based on the fact that I’m a doula and a childbirth educator.

A quick Google search will show you that there is a LOT of conflicting information out there on the oils in general, especially concerning their use during the childbearing year. People spend years (and thousands of dollars) studying aromatherapy.  It is its own profession.  If we want people to recognize doulas and perinatal educators as professionals because of the time and effort we’ve put into getting and staying certified, we need to extend the same courtesy to other professionals as well.  Attending a home class or webinar devoted to using oils during pregnancy or reading a few books on the topic does not give you the knowledge needed to freely use the oils with your clients or students without the direct supervision of a fully trained aromatherapy professional or another qualified health care provider.  Simply put: it is outside your CAPPA Scope of Practice.

Of course, if you have taken additional professional training in the area of essential oils and have other credentials in addition to your CAPPA credentials, then by all means, share the oily love! But remember to make it clear that you are wearing that hat and not your CAPPA hat. For doulas especially,  this can easily be done by clearly spelling out in the doula contact what the doula SOP is,  any additional non-doula roles or services being provided (e.g. placental encapsulation, photography, aromatherapy, etc.), and their scopes as well.

Valid continuing education includes the ability to request CEUs through the CAPPA office. This process involves the instructor submitting their CV, objectives for the learner, and a curriculum. This allows CAPPA to know that their members are getting the best possible evidence-based education that is in line with the CAPPA Approach and Philosophy. There are also a number of online options to become an aromatherapy professional. Depending on what you want to accomplish with your training some programs will be more appropriate than others.

A number of CAPPA programs include basic information on essential oil use as a comfort measure during labor. We teach that oils are to be used for aromatherapy use only, never applied topically on or ingested by the laboring woman. We cover three common oils – usually lavender, peppermint, and a citrus oil – and how, why, and when you might use each.  The information, however, is cursory and an overview, and like much of the information shared in our CAPPA workshops, an introductory starting point for our members.

Essential oils have stood the test of time. Today they are empowering many, including myself, to take their healthcare into our own hands and help our bodies heal themselves. Their uses are vast. And yet, like any other tool or intervention, they have an appropriate time and place and yes, risks. Let us remember the safety afforded to us under the umbrella of the CAPPA Scope of Practice and be sure to stay securely in its protection.

Additional information on the use of essential oils can be found in the following books:

  • Clinical Aromatherapy for Pregnancy and Childbirth 2nd Edition by Denise Tiran, MSc ADM PGCEA RM RGN
  • Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Practice, Second Edition by Jane Buckle
  • The Practice of Aromatherapy: A Classic Compendium of Plant Medicines and Their Healing Properties by Jean Valnet, MD


Article Presented By Louise Delaney

Copyright CAPPA 2015

Browse Topics

Blog Archives

Scroll to Top